-After taking his fourth loss of the season on Thursday, Neftali Feliz was removed from the closing role by Brewers manager Craig Counsell during an appearance on MLB Network Radio. His exact quote was "We're going to give Neftali Feliz a break back there and get him right. Corey Knebel has been outstanding", which makes the whole situation seem temporary rather than a permanent move. Nonetheless, Corey Knebel emerges as a must-add in all formats. Like Counsell said, Knebel has gotten off to an uncharacteristically strong start, driven primarily by a massive improvement to his K%-BB% rate. Throughout his career, he has historically been around 20%, which is still above the league average 13%, but his 30% mark in 2017 ranks in the top-15 of all relievers, ahead of names like Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman, and Dellin Betances. The spike is driven by a 4% increase to his swinging strike rate, which is now at 12.4%. Pitch deployment is largely the same year-over-year (roughly 70% fastballs and 30% curveballs), but both pitches have been substantially better graded by FanGraphs this year (2.25 wFB/c & 1.17 wCB/c this year vs. -0.23 wFB/c and 0.40 wCB/c last year). Walks will be his biggest enemy, but he has the stuff to get himself out of jams via the strikeout. Don't drop Feliz just yet, but Knebel should definitely be scooped up. In a twist, however, Craig Counsell later told reporters that he also likes the flexibility of using Corey Knebel in different innings, so Jacob Barnes emerges as a sleeper here, as well.
-We lost Zach Britton for the next 45-60 days, so we're likely be without one of our top closers for the entire first half of the year. In his place, Brad Brach was lights out in April, but has struggled since the calendar has turned to May (5 earned runs, 2 strikeouts, 2 walks and 8 hits in 6 appearances). We misread the initial hierarchy during Britton's first disabled list stint and erroneously had Darren O'Day as the primary handcuff. That call whiffed, but the latter could now be in line for more of a timeshare with Brach or Mychal Givens during Britton's absence. O'Day has struggled with control in the early going (8 walks in 14.1 innings), but his 50% groundball rate, solid strikeout rate and low HR/FB rate make him a reasonable option. Givens is solid, but he's not much of a groundball pitcher, his SwSt% is just 9% this year and he gives up contact about 2% more than the league average.
-It looks like it could be a lost season for Mets closer Jeurys Familia, who landed on the disabled list with a blood clot in his shoulder. This is an injury that has a wide array of outcomes and varying degrees of seriousness. Familia is scheduled to see Dr. Robert Thompson in St. Louis, a doctor specializing in these types of injuries and the same doctor who performed Matt Harvey's Thoracic Outlet surgery last year. It's too early to make rash decisions, but we do know that Familia will be out for at least the short-term and Addison Reed needs to be scooped up in any leagues where he was dropped.
-The struggles for the Philadelphia bullpen continued on Thursday when Hector Neris took the loss while allowing a run on two hits against the Mariners. A day later, Joaquin Benoit imploded with five earned runs on three hits and three walks. Both Edubray Ramos or Pat Neshek could be options moving forward, although manager Pete McKanin has given no indications that a shakeup at the top is imminent. Ramos has a live arm with a 94 MPH fastball and a very good slider, but he struggles with control (12% walk rate) and he lacks the experience that a manager like McKanin typically values. Neshek, on the other hand, has previous closing experience and has yet to allow an earned run this season.
Handcuff of the Week:
Each week, we highlight one of our favorite handcuffs. This player may not always be one that's on the verge of winning a job, but he's going to always be one that's worth stashing on your team's bench. This week, we're going to highlight Arodys Vizcaino of the Atlanta Braves.
Arodys Vizcaino (ATL) - The Braves' season hasn't started out the way the team would have liked in their first season with a new stadium. Current closer Jim Johnson was signed to a two year extension in the off-season and while he went through a rough patch a couple weeks ago, has seemed to put it back together over the last two weeks. As it stands, Johnson would need to be traded before Vizcaino sees the 9th inning. Health has been, and still is, the primary concern when rostering Vizcaino. His ability to touch triple digits on the radar gun comes with the consequences of the strain that it puts on his arm. So far in 2017, however, he looks healthier than ever and the results are showing it. His 31% strikeout rate and 5.5% walk rate are easily the best marks he's ever had during his time in the major leagues and his gains in both contact % (66%) and swinging strike rate (16.3%) are eye-opening. Vizcaino is certainly a power pitcher, so when he does give up contact, it tends to get hit hard (33% hard hit rate), but he also leans towards being more of a groundball pitcher than a flyball pitcher, which helps limit the damage of those balls in play. The Braves will almost certainly be a seller at the deadline, so Vizcaino will likely get a shot at closing games at some point this season. He's an inexpensive way to get access to an exciting, young arm.
Click on the following link for the rest of the closer report (including more "Around The League" notes, our closer rankings & statistics, as well as handcuff grades) in the member area: http://www.fantistics.com/baseball00/M-Closer.htm.
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